The Book of Revelation is full of confusing passages. Yet it is crystal clear on the absolute need to avoid the Mark of the Beast at all costs. But how do you make sure you do? What if they force it on you or trick you into taking it? Don’t we need to identify it now? Is it somehow already here today? Also, why would anyone take it given the clear global warning coming against it? Find out everything you need to know about the Mark of the Beast—plus a startling new insight on the months of torture awaiting those who take action too late.
If the Antichrist is the most dreaded threat of the Book of Revelation, then his mark would have to be a close second. Just as people wonder who might be the Antichrist today, they also wonder whether the Mark of the Beast is already here. As a result, the following passage from Revelation about the Mark of the Beast is one of the most quoted passages in the Bible:
The Mark of the Beast Passage
Revelation 13:16-18 (HCSB) — 16 And he [the False Prophet] requires everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s name or the number of his name. 18 Here is wisdom:, The one who has understanding must calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a man. His number is 666.
This passage is talking about the Great Tribulation (Mt 24:21) or the time when the Antichrist (or first Beast of Revelation 13) rules the entire earth. The second beast of Revelation 13, also called the False Prophet (Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10), will put in place a system of total control. They will attempt to brand every human with a mark that is needed for commerce. Obviously, without being able to buy or sell anything, you are not going to function in society or last long.
Despite the downsides of this path, it's plain from another passage that you can choose to refuse the mark:
Revelation 20:4 (HCSB) — Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. I also saw the people, who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands.
This passage should reassure those who worry that they can be tricked into taking the mark or forced to take it without their permission. It seems that the False Prophet will need your permission. Otherwise there would be nobody who "had not accepted the mark." The bad news is that they will not accept your response of "no, thanks" kindly. They will try to persuade all people to take the mark through at least four separate pressures or methods of persuasion.
Four Powerful Pressures For Taking the Mark
The first pressure is what Paul calls the strong delusion (2Th 2:11). The Antichrist will actually succeed in pawning himself off as God on earth ruling from the Third Temple in Jerusalem (2Th 2:4). Jesus said that this deception would be so convincing that even the "very elect" would be taken by it if it were possible. Thankfully, it's not possible because God intervenes with the Two Witnesses and 144,000 to preach the truth as a alternative to the popular lie (Mt 24:24). Despite God's counter-programming, the vast majority of the people are going to be convinced that the Antichrist is indeed God. This is due to the convincing signs performed at the hand of the False Prophet. These include calling fire down from heaven and making the image (statue) of the Beast that speaks (Rev 13:13-15).
The second pressure takes care of the minority of defiant skeptics who do not fall for the strong delusion. It appears from the passage above that the False Prophet will command death for those who refuse the mark. This is just as he does to those who refuse to worship the image/statue of the beast (Rev 13:15 = Rev 20:4). Many Christians will have read their Bibles or heard and believed the warning of the mark, but they simply are not martyr-material. They will crumble under the pressure. Like Jesus said, the love of believers will wax cold and believers will betray each other to save their own skin (Mt 24:12, 10).
To understand the third and fourth pressures requires a correct understanding of the prophetic roadmap and especially where the Great Tribulation fits in it. Most believe or have been taught that the Great Tribulation begins at the 1st seal. While the white horseman does indeed seem to fit the Antichrist, that's an incorrect conclusion; it actually refers to what Jesus said about the many (religions) that would come in his name, talk about him, and deceive many (Mt 24:5). The real match for the rise of Antichrist and start of the Great Tribulation is the 5th trumpet. When someone shows you the proof of how the Great Tribulation starts when Satan is cast out of heaven (he has not been cast out yet) as the start of three "woes," the Great Tribulation / 5th trumpet connection becomes pretty self-evident (cf. Dan 12:1=Rev 12:7-17=Mt 24:15,21=Rev 9:1-6, 11-13).
Once you get that crucial point correct, it opens up the possibility of seeing a couple of other key insights. First, obviously the 5th Trumpet follows the 4th Trumpet. The 4th Trumpet concludes the sequence of severe global catastrophes on earth caused by near earth objects (such as Star Wormwood) starting at the 6th seal. This will leave the world in a state of devastation (Rev 6:14; 8:7, 9), fear, panic, chaos (Rev 6:15-16), dark , cold (Rev 8:12), smoke, fires (Rev 8:8-9), water scarcity (Rev 8:10-11) and famine (Rev 8:7, 9, 12). Second, this answers how the Antichrist comes to power. It provides the perfect scenario for the Antichrist as the would-be God and "Savior of the world" to arrive and be the only solution all the problems—including the severe food shortage. Probably the mark will be presented as part of his plan to solve both the security (identification) and shortages of basic necessities (rationing). (Americans saw a similar thing after the 9-11 attack with the push for a national-ID called Real ID.)
Thus, the third pressure would be that, given the clear scarcity of food and clean water prior to the rise of the Beast, you will not get your basic living needs met without accepting the mark. The threat of death from thirst and starvation will already be mounting by the time the mark is presented to offer relief. If you do not take it, death will be knocking at the door. Principles and skepticism go out the window in such extreme situations.
But there are always stubborn, crafty and prepared people who would still refuse the mark and scratch out an existence "off the grid." There is apparently another, fourth pressure that will take care of even them. At the 5th Trumpet, we are told that an army of deadly scorpion-like locusts with teeth and stingers are released from imprisonment in the Abyss (Rev 9:1-3). Although lethal-looking (Rev 9:7-9), they do not go out to kill people; they only go out to torture everyone except the 144,000 and the other gathered-protected servants of God (Rev 9:4-5; 7:3-4; 12:13-17) . It actually says people will seek death but be unable to find it (Rev 9:6). These demonic creatures will be able to search out every nook and cranny where survivalists and other resistors with stashes of food and ammunition are hiding (Joel 2:9). Their fortification, walls and weapons will not protect them from the locusts (Joel 2:9). The torture will no doubt be very effective in getting them to accept the mark.
Refuse the Mark = 5 Months of Painful Torture
The passage telling us that these tortured people "will seek death and not find it" during the five months seems like a contradiction with what we said above that the False Prophet will cause those refusing the mark to be killed. But if you think it through carefully, you'll see there is a resolution.
It points to a terrifying new realization about the mark that you probably never heard of before: Refusing the mark is not rewarded instantly with death. On the contrary, it is rewarded first with up to five months of torture to persuade you to accept the mark. At the end of the five months of the locusts' torture tour, they finally will put you to death. Why the delay? They may be sadists or they may simply prefer to have Beast kingdom subjects than dead defeated martyrs.
(Note, that the locusts passage does not say all people besides God's sealed are tortured. It just says the power is there to do so. Since it makes no sense for the new Antichrist "God" to make his first order of business the torture his admiring subjects, even those who accept him as "God," I think it's a fair deduction that the power to torture is not used on those who take the mark. If he really wanted to capture, mark and torture everyone, then why stop after five months? But if the torture is to force the mark, then it makes sense that the torture is only used for a short time at the beginning. It only takes a few months to find and capture every single living human on earth who is trying to avoid the mark and to try to convince them change their mind.)
In summary, then, here are the four pressures on people that will make most people accept the mark:
The 4 Reasons Why Most People Will Take the Mark
- Convinced Antichrist is God on earth
- To avoid beheading
- To avoid starvation
- To avoid (up to) five months of torture
"Mark" Only Figurative? Or Literal?
Terrifying, isn't it? Anyone understanding just a fraction of the pressures coming to push the mark on people will naturally want to know exactly what it is now so they can be sure to see it coming. Actually, we'll see later why it is that if you want to successfully avoid it (and keep your life), you must never see it.
Yet people still persist in wanting to know what it is now. The first question, then, is to ask is what is the intended meaning of the passage describing the mark? Should we read it literally, as a visible marking on the skin of the hand or forehead or figuratively as something completely different (such as, say, "Sabbath-breaking/Sunday worship" like the Seventh Day Adventists and others believe)?
A big reason for doubt about the interpretation of the mark passage comes from an uncannily similar instruction to ancient Israel recorded in the Torah about a sign/symbol in their forehead and hand (Ex 13:9, 16; Dt 6:8; 11:18):
Exodus 13:16 (HCSB) — So let it be a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead, for the LORD brought us out of Egypt by the strength of His hand.
Orthodox Judaism uses this command to justify their tradition of binding of "phylacteries" to the forehead and hands. However, most agree that ancient Israel did not follow this verse the way modern Judaism does. Instead, they understood it figuratively as telling them to keep the Torah firmly in mind ("forehead") and in their actions (the "hand"). If you agree with this interpretation, then it's natural to read the very similar passage in Revelation exactly the same way: figuratively (especially in a book like Revelation that is already assumed to be mostly symbolically figurative).
But we have to decide how to read a verse individually and in its own context. We cannot assume that every instance of every construct will be used the same, or misinterpretation will result. For example, there are at least three different meanings for the word translated "star" in the Book of Revelation alone (angels, meteors/"shooting stars", and literal stars)! In fact, the use of similar constructs for different purposes seems to be one of the ways that God made the Bible tricky on purpose as Isaiah and Jesus declared about God's word (Isa 6:9-10; Mk 4:11; Mt 13:11; Lk 8:10; 10:21-24).
Why Only a Literal Mark Works
Whenever you are in doubt after carefully considering a verse in context, you can usually resolve it by looking at related passages or in other words by looking at it in the greater Biblical context. Revelation 14:9 is another passage dealing with the Mark of the Beast which we can consult for help. Using it, we can dispel any doubt about the literal meaning of the Mark of the Beast.
This passage is the third of three angel's warnings delivered to mankind. This third message specifically warns everyone about the grave consequences of receiving the Mark of the Beast in the "forehead" or "hand:"
Revelation 14:9-10 (HCSB) — 9 And a third angel followed them and spoke with a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand...10... he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels
Now think about the theory of a figurative mark in the context of this dire warning. The unsuspecting general public is going to be given this warning so that they are able to know what to do to avoid God's wrath, a very serious thing indeed. They will need simple clear understandable instructions that they can act on. But a message referencing a forbidden figurative mark is not clear but requires further explanation or thought before people can know what it is they must avoid. This would leave people uncertain and unable to follow the instructions.
If the warning tells you to reject any future leader who wants to put a literal mark on your skin (forehead or right hand), that's very understandable and actionable. If it's figurative, where the mark can be anything like, keeping Sunday vs. Sabbath, how would you be sure?
Since a figurative mark does not work in the warning here, then why did God use figurative language to "warn" Israel about keeping Torah in their thoughts and deeds? It worked for that because that earlier hand/forehead sign referenced something that he had already told them volumes about: the Torah. He wanted to communicate to them how integral they needed to make Torah to their life and he did so using a powerful metaphorical illustration. In contrast, the Mark of the Beast warning is a stand-alone command to a general public who God has only spoken two other messages ever in total to. Metaphorical language does not get the job done. The warning about receiving a "mark in the head or hand" can only refer to a literal marking on the forehead or hand which people can readily understand, identify, and know what to do when they encounter it.
But Wait...If There Will Be a Universal Warning, Why Won't Everyone Just Listen and Avoid the Mark?
With that question settled by the third angel worldwide warning text, another question is raised. If the warning about the mark is going to be as global and clear as stated above, then why will anyone get trapped into taking the mark?
This is a simple question with a not-so-simple answer. It requires knowing several aspects of the end times in order to understand it. To help with that, let me outline the distinct categories people will fall into when the mark is out:
3 Categories of People When the Mark Comes
- Mark accepters (alive, but destined for God's wrath)
- Mark rejecters/martyrs (dead or soon-to-be dead(see below) but destined for the First Resurrection)
- Mark evaders (alive and destined for the rapture)
The first two categories are obvious and self-explanatory, but the last one, of mark evader requires explanation. The mark evaders are obviously similar to the mark rejecters in wanting to heed the universal warning about not taking the mark. However, they differ from the mark rejecters in the two aspects of proactivity and of faith. We shall see that to evade the mark is not as simple or foolproof as it may seem to you now.
Faith Needed To Obey the Warning
By way of illustration, you could compare it to the challenge of getting a girl to evade teen pregnancy by giving her a warning about it when she is ten years old. She may agree at that age that teen pregnancy is a bad outcome which she does not want. Yet, after she passes puberty, certain temptations must be resisted or certain actions taken for the teen pregnancy warning to work out well.
Similarly, when you hear the warning about the mark, you must take a specific action before the mark even arrives. If you do not do so, it will be too late and you will get pregnant, as the analogy goes, or be left with choices 1 and 2 above only. That's the proactive aspect of evading the mark.
The faith aspect of evading the mark comes in because the action required to avoid the mark will be to "come out of Babylon" (Rev 18:4; Jer 50:8; 51:6, 9, 45). The end time prophecies of the Bible repeatedly speak of God leading his faithful servants out of their home countries to a place he prepares to feed them during the Great Tribulation (Rev 12:12-17). However, it will not be so clear that this is right to do, as it is to, say, exit a burning house when someone shouts "Fire! Get out!" Probably everything in the world will look as fine (if you can call it that) as it does today. It will be counter-intuitive.
It has been my experience that when this clear (future) travel prophecy from the Bible is shared with normal church-going Christians, they reflexively reject it. It sounds ridiculous to the average Christian that God would ever require his people to do something so radical as to leave their homes. Many of them miss the obvious irony in their objection to a future God-given travel command in light of the fact that God has done this very thing repeatedly in the past with his faithful servants as the OT records. He told Abraham to leave his country. Lot had to leave Sodom. He told the entire nation of Israel to leave Egypt. Sure, they were slaves there anyway, but there are many parallels to their literal slavery and our modern slavery to sin, addictions, distractions, etc. in our home countries that an end time exodus would release us from, too.
(Note: A major reason that many despair upon hearing about needing to move to escape the end times, is that, again, they are not remembering the lessons of the Exodus. When God commanded Israel to leave Egypt, he did not abandon them but gave them tremendous "provision to go along with the commission" as the saying goes. They had great leadership, divine protection, payment of back wages through spoiling of the Egyptians and miracles such as the Red Sea crossing, shoes not wearing out, healings, manna from heaven to feed them, water from the rock to drink, victory over their enemies, etc. We can expect the same thing again when God again commands his servants to march out. Passports, money, illnesses unwilling spouses and children will all be worked out (cf Ex 19:4 = Rev 12:14). Hope this helps)
No Visible Angels
Another reason that faith will tie in greatly is that, most likely, the instructions of the three angels will be spoken to people not by the three angels themselves, but by humans; prophets. This probably sounds ridiculous at first but if you read the passage carefully you'll note that it never quite says that the angels themselves do the preaching of their own messages (Rev 14:6). It simply says they "have" the messages to be preached. This leaves room for someone else to do the preaching. This phrasing is good because it does not make the passage break with precedent for how angels are tasked by God in the Bible. Angels usually interface only with the righteous or small groups of the public. When God deals with the general public or nations, he uses men exclusively.
I think the answer to which men it will be this time is found, by no coincidence, in the verses immediately preceding (Rev 14:1-5). If you ever wondered who the 144,000 are and why they are given such special protection so that the Beast's forces cannot touch them, this would answer that. Their message of warning must go out without encumbrance to counteract the powerful dragnet that the Beast will be allowed to unleash on humanity. However, like all prophets before them, they are mere men and not as fearsome and compelling as an angel of light speaking before your eyes. People will be able to doubt and ignore the warnings and call to action of the 144,000 men.
"My pastor said not to go"
It should not be hard for the reader to imagine how most Christians will scoff at even a real miracle-working Bible-conforming prophet sent by God telling people to "come out of Babylon" per the prophecies. Christians by nature rely on their pastors and other Christians to tell them what is right or what to do. They sincerely believe "all these churches can't be wrong." Thus, when most churches advise people to ignore the crazy prophet message to leave, and just stay "safe in Jesus" where they are and/or await the "pretrib rapture," it will be largely followed. They will not have the faith or guts to obey the command to leave early enough in order to avoid the mark.
Then, when they actually see the Abomination of Desolation (military takeover of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Antichrist) that they were warned would come, they will want to obey the "crazy" instructions they ignored years before. However, if they are not close to the location that God told them to move to, there will be no chance of them making it there in time before the Great Tribulation begins (30 days later).
The mark edict will soon be issued and they will be faced with the tough choice of option 1 or option 2.
Option 3, of mark evasion, will have expired.
What To Do Today To Escape the Mark
Clearly, every believer prefers to avoid ending up in that no-win situation of having to choose between martyrdom and markdom. We all want choice 3; neither. To have that option, the challenge at that point of no return will be in having the discernment to recognize which way God is leading; "should I stay or should I go?" Even if you do recognize the truth spoken by God's prophets on leaving, you will also need the faith to go ahead with the minority in following such radical and hard instructions.
The question, then, is how do we develop the faith and boldness needed to take the hard early action required to avoid the mark? Jesus gave us the clearest advice I know:
Luke 18:8 (HCSB)— I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?
Luke 17:5-6 (HCSB) — 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 6 “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,” the Lord said, “you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
Luke 21:36 (ESV) — But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Ever notice that nowhere in the Gospels can you find Jesus directly answering the question of how one increases their faith? I was frustrated at that for a while when I was wanting more faith, like the apostles. Finally, I realized that the Bible gives us the answer elsewhere and everywhere.
In the many stories of the Bible we see God's servants walking prayerfully with him through hardships and learning several things in the process. They learn how to recognize his hand leading. This normally does not consist of voices, dreams, and visions, but of coincidences or "God-incidences" or "open doors" (Rev 3:8, 20) and "closed doors" (Rev 3:7). They learn what he is likely to do or lead us to do and what he is not likely to do nor lead us to do. They learn how to trust him when the situation looks like he has abandoned them and just wait in patience and peace until the clear direction to act comes, if any action is required. In other words, they learn faith and how to act on it.
If you pray daily about having faith and strength as Jesus instructed, then you can be sure that God will hear that prayer according to his will. In response, he will direct you just as he did the servants in the Bible who wanted the same thing. You will be put in sometimes uncomfortable situations like they were which require you to be bold and radical at times, and to be inactive or meek at other times; the whole gamut. This will prepare you for all situations including the coming crisis of decision over leaving your home country early enough to escape the Mark of the Beast.
By the way, as far as finances and other logistics, when the time to escape comes, God has a plan to give provision to all those who choose in faith to obey the command to escape. See my article on the faith to escape to understand that situation.
What Not To Do...
Lastly, a warning: Emigration to Israel for non-Jews is generally not possible today. The way must be opened up, not just for our move, but several end time events also require a major change in Israel. For example, the construction of the Third Temple or the singing of the 144,000 on the Temple Mount can't happen today without Arab control of the Temple Mount being eradicated. I expect the prophesied M.E. nuclear war against Israel where Damascus is laid waste to bring that about.
The Mark of the Beast is going to be far more irresistible than most Christians can imagine. But the solution to its challenge is not to get distracted today with trying to figure out exactly what it is in advance. Even if you did figure that out, it would do you no good. If you see the mark, it will already be too late to escape it with your life intact.
The proper escape plan will instead require faith and proactive, radical action. Unfortunately, as Jesus insinuated, faith will be a rare trait in the end times (Lk 18:8). Further, you do not learn bold and radical action by just going to church every Sunday and listening to your pastor. The answer is to follow Jesus' advice to stay awake and to pray daily for strength to escape what is coming (Lk 21:36). God will be sure to answer that prayer by guiding your life so that you get the experiences and information which will develop the faith and radical streak you will need when the time comes. What's more, these two things will help you to serve God and shine your light even better every day along the way, just like the faithful maverick Jesus did.
For help on what aspects to focus on changing in your life, from Jesus' words, see my article on Rapture Requirements.
P.S. Regarding the 666 bar code diagram above, it's one of the ideas for what the Mark of the Beast may turn out to be...
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